20 November, 2018

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Power Struggle In The Indian Ocean & Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy

By Ranil Wickremesinghe

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe

Four Centuries of Western domination in the Indian Ocean has come to an end. Asian nations are re-emerging as Economic and military powers. This has brought a new focus on Asia and the long neglected Indian Ocean region. It also gives Sri Lanka’s foreign policy a new impetus to play a significant role in the region.

The foreign policy of newly independent Sri Lanka under Prime Minister DS Senanayake focussed on Asia

* Supported the independence struggle in Indonesia

* Recognized the Peoples Republic of China and

* Called for a formal peace treaty with Japan.

* Sri Lanka and Australia proposed the Colombo Plan at the Commonwealth Foreign Affairs Conference held in Colombo in 1950

* Entered into the Rubber-Rice Pact with China in 1952

Thereafter Sir John Kotalawela took the initiative to summon India, Myanmar, Pakistan and Indonesia the other Asian powers to meet in Colombo, in April 1954. The phrase non-alignment was used for the first time at this meeting. The Asian powers in turn summoned the 1955 Afro-Asian Conference in Bandung which was also attended by China and Japan.

The next step was a large gathering which included non-Afro Asian nations.

In 1956 Nehru, Nasser and Tito signed a declaration in Yugoslavia calling for a Non-Aligned Movement. Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka one of the initial conveners of the first meeting of the Non Aligned Movement played an important role during her tenure in office including holding the 1976 Summit in Colombo. Sri Lanka’s foreign policy adjusted its focus accordingly. It was necessary during the height of cold war period.

The Colombo Summit was also during the peak of the NAM. However subsequent Soviet-American detente NAM declined in importance. Thereafter, the Movement was left to re-define its relevance after the collapse of the Soviet Union brought the cold war to an end. This collapse followed by the global financial crisis of 2012, has seen the major transformation of the global order. Following the end of the conflict in Sri Lanka, and related Human Rights issues that arose, Sri Lanka since January 2015, has introduced a new multi-pronged approach to re-position itself in the regional order.

New developments in the region and beyond have re-established the strategic importance of the Indian Ocean. The rapid growth of the East Asian, ASEAN and the Indian economies all dependent on international trade has resulted in the Indian Ocean becoming the lifeline of Asian Economies.   The oil and gas from the Persian Gulf have to pass through this largely enclosed water body controlled by choke points. As a result the Indian Ocean sea-lanes of communication, one of the busiest in the world, is vital for the smooth functioning of the emerging geo-energy era. The most important Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) runs past Sri Lanka making it a strategic location for the control and safety of the sea lanes and communication lines. It gives Sri Lanka the opportunity of becoming the Hub of the Indian Ocean as well.

The control of the strategic foothold of the SLOC and the choke points in the Indian Ocean enables the control of the energy. This has resulted in a number of geopolitical issues coming to the fore.

* China recognizing its strategic vulnerability in the Indian Ocean and has sought to reduce its vulnerability.

* As a result of China’s challenge to the US in the Pacific, the US is obviously concerned about a possible Chinese expansion in the Indian Ocean.

* India the strongest power among the Indian Ocean littoral states as well as several other states are concerned about a possible change in the status quo.

* Japan, Australia and several other countries in the region and beyond are committed to a free maritime order in the Indian Ocean.

This political interplay in the Indian Ocean is in danger of becoming a major centre of tension. A power struggle in the Indian Ocean will no doubt also adversely affect Sri Lanka’s objective of becoming the hub of the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka’s future prosperity depends on the stability of the Indian Ocean. A power struggle in the Indian Ocean also risks making the littoral states into spectators in the Indian Ocean.

The Indo-Pacific Strategy is a concept recently articulated by the USA. China appears concerned that this strategy could contain China in the Pacific and Indian Oceans and thereby increase its strategic vulnerability. Speaking at the Shangri-la Summit in Singapore, Prime Minister Modi reassured “India does not see the Indo-Pacific Region as a strategy or as a club of limited members. Nor as a grouping that seeks to dominate. And by no means do we consider it as directed against any country.” Let this be the starting point.

Since a stable maritime order is a pre-requisite for Sri Lanka’s development, we have an opportunity to leverage our strategic location and our friendly relations with the key maritime nations to take the initiative to lessen tension in the Indian Ocean region. Keeping the Sea Lanes of Communication open by ensuring freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean is a strategy to achieve this objective. Our good relations with all stakeholders make us most suitable to take initiatives to talk on the freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean.

Sri Lanka accepts the concept of a free and open Indo-Pacific. The term Indo-Pacific is of recent origin. The issues of the Indian Ocean are not the same as that of Pacific. We in the Indian Ocean must seek to contain tensions while maintaining present tranquility.

The freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean must be based on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). There is no need for a new code of conduct. The immediate objective is to arrive at a consensus among all stakeholders, which includes the littoral states, on the manner of upholding UNCLOS in the Indian Ocean. We need to identify specific issues of concern and clarify the relevant provisions with a view to strengthening cooperation to ensure open sea-lanes. There will also have to be a consensus on new areas that needs cooperative action such as terrorism, human smuggling and piracy, which are not fully covered by UNCLOS. We must seek to accommodate the interest of all parties within the agreed principles. This initiative can be taken together with the Indian Ocean Region Association (IORA) and become complementary to initiatives to promote maritime economy, environment and Indian Ocean Region blue economy.

Sri Lanka has an important role to play in providing the space for discussions and consensus building on the freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean and related issues such as maritime economy and environment. All stakeholders must participate in such an initiative.

Regional initiatives such as the Belt and Road Initiative, Indo-Pacific Strategy, Act East, Neighbourhood First, Free and Open Pacific and Indian Ocean, can all be treated as complementary.  They can provide space for further integration of regional economies as well.

Sri Lanka’s participates in China’s Belt and Road initiative since it complements Sri Lanka’s own initiatives. The maritime silk road further strengthens our role as the Hub of the Indian Ocean.

Japan’s Two Ocean Initiative strengthens emphasis on peace and stability in the two oceans and the concept of freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean. Its emphasis on economic prosperity helps in improving connectivity.

India’s Act East and Neighbourhood first policy also complements our initiatives and in particular, the Sri Lanka as a hub concept.

*Salient points of Hon. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s speech at the Bandaranaike International Diplomatic Training Institute Salient Convocation on Friday 13 July 2018 at the BMICH

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Latest comments

  • 6
    1

    To give credit when due this is a great speech, kudos to MrRanilW, non-aligned approach is what SL should thrive for when the dust settles on the recent development projects. Considering Sri Lanka’s territory is more that 85% water we need to use that resource wisely, with humility, and with respect for earth.

    • 7
      0

      “followed by the global financial crisis of 2012”

      GFC was in 2008 ……… not aware of one in 2012

      “A power struggle in the Indian Ocean will no doubt also adversely affect Sri Lanka’s objective of becoming the hub of the Indian Ocean.”

      With a harbour sold to china and an airport sold to India and the Army headquarters moved and the land sold to China and land in the new harbour city leased for 99 years to China ……….. we are well and truly in the “power-struggle.” ………. We are nothing but a vassal state of the “powers” already

      Man, what matters is not this cockamamie power struggles ………. but our political-setup …………. you can’t have a political-setup enjoying all the perks off the blood sweat and tears and hard-toil of the citizens ……… there is something not right; everybody can see it ………… and people are cynical about the whole damn shebang ………… and these daily political talk/dross

      I dunno a single thang about politics ………. but I know if you put your housing in order …………..all these problems will disappear …….

      Fish rot form the head ………….. first get the Lankan political “head” right. ……… then you can give speeches to your heart’s content

  • 6
    1

    Come on RW.
    The power struggle in the Indian Ocean has nothing to do with our problem. Surely you know that our problem is corruption/nepotism/impunity galloping from mega to giga.
    You started with Sir John Kotalawala. Remember he tried his best to prevent the onset of the language/religion divide. JR J introduced it with relish.
    Srimavo was hobnobbing NAM while aligning with Sinhala Only ‘patriots’.
    You are gossiping ‘Foreign Policy’ while we are drowning.
    Is this the sort of things taught at the International Diplomatic Training Institute? There is a case to look at ‘one-oh-one’.

    • 1
      1

      India’s patience is running out. If RW thinks that he can hoodwink India, then he is sadly mistaken. India wants China out of Sri Lanka, and on this promise of sending China out that RW government was installed. RW is playing a double game which on he long run will be disastrous to Sri Lanka. Instead of getting China out, he is offering India facilities in Matala and Palaly airports. This also appears to be just verbal and no concrete steps to hand over them to India. India will not take assurances given by Sri Lanka that China will not use the facilities in Hambantota or Colombo port city for military purposes. Moving of Sri Lanka southern naval command to Hambantota is another hoodwinking measure, as China will never allow Sri Lanka navy to step into their territory for next 99 years. It is in the news that Indian foreign secretary had told MS to take as priority settlement of ethnic problem by constitutional means of power sharing and implement it immediately. Does this ring a bell that India is not going to wait long for Sri Lanka to take their own time to cheat, and if they fail to arrive at a solution that India may intervene.

      • 2
        0

        Are you aware Sri Lanka is trying to sell around 7500 acres around coastal Batticaloa and an island to China. How dare they do this in Tamil Hindu Batticaloa district , the heart of the eastern province ,to spite India and play a double game. Verbally promised handover Trincomalee to India and them 90KM down south handover 7500 acres of a beautiful coast and an island to China. The Tamil people and their lands are being treated as colonies and sold to everyone.

  • 5
    0

    Mr. Prime Minister
    *
    Grandiose objectives such as ‘Vision 2025’ and making Sri Lanka the hub in the Indian ocean are all well and good.
    *
    However, there are some basics you need to address which will facilitate your objectives.
    *
    Firstly, get Students, Doctors, Teachers and all other strikers off the streets and back in their classrooms and workplaces. They are the biggest impediment to economic progress and wealth creation. Right to Protest must have limitations. Road closures resulting from almost daily protest marches is a hindrance to economic activity and discourages foreign investments
    *
    Secondly, revamp the education system and stop the churning of unemployable graduates, especially Arts graduates from universities who are of no use even to themselves who end up demanding government jobs. Funds deployed for Arts graduates may be deployed in more productive disciplines as done by Margret Thatcher in the 1980s in the UK
    *
    Lastly, make all government decisions after careful evaluation before implementation rather than rescinding after implementation due to opposition from the public which has been the modus operandi of the Yahapalana government from day one.

    • 5
      0

      Well this is it! Sweet and brief.

      Hope Ranil reads it ……… and does something about it at least at this late stage.

      Speeches go only so far …………… it’s actions that’s needed

      We can all do without speeches and talking and acting and pantomime ………………

      The great marvel is …………. in spite of the best efforts of our leaders and of our own people to destroy the country for the past 70 years ………… the country has withstood it all and marches on ………..while it’s adversaries have fallen by the wayside ……. that way the country is truly blessed ………

      I think these bad times will also come to pass …………… and had over to the next bad-times …………

  • 1
    2

    The Belt and Road Initiative is entirely in the dominion for Sri Lanka to strategize on! And we can include Indian littoral states as complementary appendages. But what’s with Ranil handing over our Southern airport and Trincomalee port to a place like India? If we need to balance out US vs. China intervention in our region, surely we can use our own powers of negotiation (and submarines). We shouldn’t sell our ancient Nation as an Indian pacifier tool.

    • 0
      0

      But you have no problem selling off the country to China??

  • 3
    3

    To face this power struggle we must have powerful institutions- effective administration , independent judiciary, a central bank acting honestly.
    We had a good finance minister (ravi)We had a good board at Srilankan airline. We also had a good high commissioner in UK. We also need learned speeches like this.
    The economy is looking good.The UNP is looking unbeatable.

  • 0
    0

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy. For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

    • 4
      0

      OKAY CT,
      Let me rephrase my question to Ranil:
      .
      It’s so nice of you to tell us what’s going on in the Indian Ocean. Similarly would you also please keep us informed regularly through CT as to what your government is up to on land. We have no idea what’s going on with the Bond Case, Mahendran, FCID investigations and several heinous murders committed by the previous regime. And could you tell us why the Judiciary is acting the way it does: it keeps postponing even the most obvious cases like Avant Garde, Sajin Vass, Mahindananda Aluthgamage etc. It even refuses to hear cases against Gota.
      .
      What is going on? What else is going on?

  • 2
    0

    The President talks about the Death Penalty; now the Prime Minister talks Foreign Policy. Both sound diversionary to me!
    .
    We’ve long wanted to know why we’re in this mess after giving these two guys all the power that they wanted. Corruption: Pre-2014 (the New York Times Story, and much else), and Post 2015 (Bond Scam, non-announcement of democratisation of UNP etc) are things that worry us.
    .
    Are Provincial Council Elections going to be held in October, and how are we to stave off the Rajapaksas whom we don’t really want, but who will come in by default? That danger doesn’t mean that we want the democratic process stymied. Are we going to see the final retirement of Ravi Karunanayake, whose back we thought we had seen? Not to speak of Arjuna Mahendran.
    .
    Who is going to contest the Presidency for Yahapalanaya values. No, they are not jokes to us:
    .
    Many of us reading this are “old codgers”. We have retire, and hand this country over to youngsters. We are “long withering out their heritage”.
    .
    The first 200 words here make interesting reading; opposing views follow:
    .
    https://www.vox.com/2018/5/21/17360978/right-to-die-assisted-dying-suicide-david-goodall
    .
    Many Youtubes give you the story: here’s one:
    .
    https://www.vox.com/2018/5/21/17360978/right-to-die-assisted-dying-suicide-david-goodall
    .
    That is a ten minute “post event” video; there are others of him talking the previous day.

    .

  • 3
    0

    What is the point of this article?
    Sri Lanka has no real say in the Indian ocean other than which puppet master it wants to be controlled by.

    • 0
      0

      The point, dear JohnSiva, is that Ranil W. sounds very learned and knowledgeable when he talks on these topics. He knows that, and tries to impress us.
      .
      However, you are right. It is all divorced from reality.
      .
      But why are so many referring to him nowadays as “Dr Ranil”? I grant him to have enough “background” to not want to emulate the likes of Badi-ud-deen Mohamed, Iriyagolla and A.T. Ariyaratne who flaunted Doctorates that were only honorary.
      .
      C.W.W. Kannangara and E.W. Adikaram had genuine earned PhDs.
      .
      Mervyn Silva, and a now forgotten Dayananda Somasundera who was the the First Vice-Chancellor of Sabaragamuwa University actually BOUGHT theirs with currency notes from Anton Jayasuriya of Acupuncture fame. His acupuncture was good. It may be that I will hunt up and post all the other incredible titles he gave himself.

  • 0
    0

    ” Four Centuries of Western domination in the Indian Ocean has come to an end. “ Ranil feel sorry for losing the Arabian Domination. Lankawe practically did nothing to remove anybody’s domination in Indian Ocean. But, Lanka mother as bitch, to remove Tamils for their land, has not brought in India, Arabians, America, EU, China and Japan. This is will get worse. The international forces need time to learn Ranil’s jugglery. One they learn they will react properly.
    ” Asian nations are re-emerging as Economic and military powers “. Another rotten economic and military power statement. During the 2nd world war Japan was very powerful nation. But it was destroyed by its mistake. If Ranil means China is growing like that, world will get together and destroy it. But China is a smart country, will not get up dance when Ranil play music.
    Further it is not Asian countries, but civilization has spread all over the world. UN, WB, IMF, has spread the civilization and economic development all over the world. China and India are only two nations in the BRICS. Many South American countries and African countries are growing very fast. In Asia Lankawe is going down on its growth.

    Don Stephan is a very inferior in foreseeing. Yalpana Vaipava Malai is referring of brining first labor migration to Ceylon, by Yarlpadi, a blind king. That was the first time Tamil Nadu’s Tamils were brought to work here in Ceylon in massive numbers. Then During Europeans’ time too this kind of massive labor importation took place. The puny brain of Don Stephen could not understand breath and length of the economic theories. He was the first one deported in massive numbers. The other Sinhala leaders up to Ranil who followed this example have made the country as down going in using the labor force.

  • 0
    0

    The net labor loss – one and half million expatriate and killed another half million (JVP +LTTE a conservative estimate)- a total of two million estimated labor is lost in Ceylon. This demonstrates the leaders’ (from Don to Ranil) inefficiency. Ranil still could not understand how the land has been slaved by the political mistakes of Sinhala leaders, but bragging of ruling the world with their puny brain.
    • Don Stephan brought the Indian Pakistani Citizenship acts, showing his misunderstanding on economics.
    • That time well doing British Traders & Burger community left the country. Country become poor and sow the seed to JVP insurrection. In contrast, the very smart Nelson Mandela made deal with British Origin Traders and uplifted SA as one in the BRICS.
    • Don had entanglements in Trincomalee harbor with Britain. This, 70 years later, made Ranil to sell Hangbangtota to China. If Don Stephen had made tactful negotiation with London that time, now Hangbangtota would not have been lost to China and Ranil would have saved his tail.
    • By disenfranchising Indian origin workers, Don Stephen created permanent antipathy with India. This made Lankawe to surrender China.
    • He created the Tamil-Sinhalese fight. This has made richest country in the hemisphere as poorest in the area. By 2050 India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand, Indonesia all are rated to be at very high standard by UN and other international forecasts. Lankawe is nowhere in that.
    • MMDA has created subtle race disunity. This has the capability even importing ISIS like troubles to Lankawe.
    • His self-centered new Sinhala colonization economic developments put the country back 400 years old, feudal style agricultural economy. In contrast, the neighboring TN, which was much behind to Ceylon that time, has maneuvered it into industrial based economy.
    Don Stephan did not know to use the high quality labor available in Lankawe that time. He guided Lankawe in to racism, sex, drug, crimes, smuggling and other ills infested land.

  • 1
    0

    Recognized the People’s Republic of China but failed to recognise the Tamils in Srilanka.Recognition was in a negative format.

  • 2
    0

    There is nothing new in this speech.

    He has been a US arse licker from birth. His father was a US agent., and he is continuing that betrayal in this temporary power trip he is on, may be for another 12 months.

    America has no future in the Indian Ocean and they should pack up and bugger off.

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